Sunday, March 30, 2008

A message from Angela Hoy of Writers Weekly To Amazon's Threat To POD publishers and the Booksurge "monopoly"



A message from Angela Hoy of Writers Weekly To Amazon's Threat To POD publishers and the Booksurge "monopoly"

Some Print on Demand (POD) publishers are privately screaming "Monopoly!" while others are seething with rage over startling phone conversations they're having with Amazon/BookSurge representatives. Why isn't anybody talking about it openly? Because they're afraid - very, very afraid.

Amazon.com purchased BookSurge, a small POD publisher/printer back in 2005. Amazon also lists and sells titles for the largest POD printer, Lightning Source, which is owned by Ingram (the large book distributor). According to their website, Lightning Source serves more than 4,300 publisher clients and has more than 400,000 titles in their system.

You'd think Amazon's purchase of BookSurge might have made things a bit uncomfortable between the two companies. However, they continued to work together, getting books on demand to Amazon.com's loyal customers. Things appeared to be cruising along just fine, but perhaps not anymore.

Reports have been trickling in from the POD underground that Amazon/BookSurge representatives have been approaching some Lightning Source customers, first by email introduction and then by phone (nobody at BookSurge seems to want to put anything in writing). When Lightning Source customers speak with the BookSurge representative, the reports say, they are basically told they can either have BookSurge start printing their books or the "buy" button on their Amazon.com book pages will be "turned off."

The book information would remain on Amazon, and people could still order the book from resellers (companies that list new and used books in Amazon's Marketplace section), but customers would not be able to buy the book from Amazon directly, nor qualify for the coveted "free shipping" that Amazon offers.

Don't believe it? I didn't believe it either. I am Angela Hoy, the co-owner of POD services company BookLocker.com and publisher of WritersWeekly.com. I am well-known in the industry for my activism performed through WritersWeekly Whispers and Warnings. Over the years, we have helped writers recover tens of thousands of dollars in fees from deadbeat editors and publishers, helped them negotiate better contract terms, assisted writers in obtaining payment after their copyrights have been violated, and even assisted police in collecting evidence to prosecute criminals who have preyed on writers. I am also the author of 11 non-fiction books.

Still doubting the reports could really be true, I emailed an Amazon/BookSurge representative who's been trying to get us to talk to him by phone. John Clifford of Amazon/BookSurge called me at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 26, 2008.

My first comment was to tell him we heard a rumor that POD publishers who didn't use BookSurge would have the "buy" button on their Amazon.com book pages turned off.

He said, "What? Who told you that? That's not true!"

I told him I'd heard some rumors from the "POD underground."

He said he'd previously tried to talk to my husband, Richard Hoy, the President and CEO of BookLocker. I explained that we had a very bad experience with BookSurge in the past and that he was, naturally, hesitant to do business with them again. (Google the words BookSurge complaint without any quotes to see other customers' comments about them as well.)

He claimed the people who worked for BookSurge back then are probably all gone (but that didn't explain the more recent complaints). He made his sales pitch, talking about percentages and such, and said many POD publishers are resisting their attempts to convert to BookSurge. Mr. Clifford also said BookSurge's aim was to help Amazon customers get their books faster.

What he didn't say was that Lightning Source not only packages books for Amazon customers in boxes that feature an Amazon.com return address label, but also drop-ships those orders directly to Amazon customers at Amazon's request. Hmm...

He stated several times that books not converted to BookSurge's system would be "taken down." Since that wasn't exactly what we'd heard, I asked about books that perhaps weren't selling well, that aren't good candidates for converting to BookSurge (books that would remain for sale through Lightning Source, but would never be converted to BookSurge due to the time/expense involved).

Contrary to what he stated at the very beginning of our conversation, Mr. Clifford finally admitted that books not converted to BookSurge would have the "buy" button turned off on Amazon.com, just as we'd heard from several other POD publishers who had similar conversations with Amazon/BookSurge representatives.

Mr. Clifford said authors of those books could participate in the Amazon.com Advantage Program, meaning they would have to pay Amazon $29.95 per year PLUS 55% of the list price of their book, as well as buy and then send those books to Amazon directly for them to warehouse and ship to customers.

I explained to him that we had more than 1500 books in print and that it would take quite awhile to convert all of those over to BookSurge's system. He said as long as the relationship was "moving forward" that the "buy" button would remain active on our authors' books that had not yet been switched.

Another comment Mr. Clifford made was that their eventual desire is to have no books from other POD publishers available on Amazon.com.

WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?!

I have to wonder if Jeff Bezos is even aware of what is going on within his organization. Here is Amazon's Vision Statement, taken directly from their website:

"Our vision is to be earth's most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online."

What it doesn't say is, "Our customers can buy any print on demand book they might want online...as long as we also get paid to print it."

Nobody likes being backed into a corner, and saying "do this or else" naturally breeds angry rejection and hostility. If we did agree to sign the contract, pulling and transferring files to Amazon/Booksurge would take an enormous amount of time and money. From the POD publishers we've talked to, and from our own experience at BookLocker, we could all be looking at a dire and immediate threat of revenue cuts if we refuse to sign the Amazon/BookSurge contract. Most importantly, there could be an outcry from and potential financial hardship on the authors, who are completely innocent in all of this.

In BookLocker's opinion, and the opinion of all the fellow Lightning Source customers we talked to, the Amazon/BookSurge proposal does not appear attractive at all (yes, we obtained the contract and the file submission specifications). Amazon/BookSurge would make money two ways on Amazon.com sales - first the fee for printing the books, and then 48% of the list price of each sale through Amazon.com. Lightning Source allows its customers to set their own discount rate for Amazon and other retail sales, and does not force POD publishers or authors to pay "48%."

Furthermore, it could take the larger POD publishers months to submit their book files to Amazon/BookSurge, at a considerable cost and number of man-hours. This makes the deal even less attractive. Finally, while the initial list of books submitted by POD publishers could be submitted to Amazon/BookSurge for free, the contract states future books would cost $50 each to process. The cost for individual authors to publish through BookSurge is considerably more, with an average publishing package cost of more than $1,000.

Since Amazon/BookSurge does not offer Ingram distribution (Ingram distribution is considered imperative in the industry for bookstore sales), any company that accepts the Amazon/BookSurge deal, who desires to keep offering Ingram distribution, may need to maintain two copies of the book files. Since the Amazon/BookSurge current specs don't match the Lightning Source specs, future book files, both interior and cover, may need to be formatted separately. So, they would have to pay double the setup fees and might have to do double the formatting work as well...or pay designers to do double the formatting work.

Likewise, self-published authors who believe they must have Ingram Distribution AND an active "buy" button on Amazon to be successful may need to pay double the setup fees (to a POD publisher AND Amazon/BookSurge), and also may need to create two separate sets of formatted files.

In the event where two versions of a book might be available, Mr. Clifford said the Amazon/BookSurge version of the POD book would trump (override) the version offered by Lightning Source on Amazon.com.

AMAZON WAS BUILT BY BOOKS....That Were Written By AUTHORS

When authors get wind of this, we believe they are going to be livid. Authors are also readers. They love books. We suspect they buy from Amazon in droves. I, myself, have been an Amazon junkie for years, not only heavily promoting Amazon.com in my non-fiction books for writers and on our very popular website, WritersWeekly.com, but also listing my own books for sale there, ordering other authors' books, DVDs and numerous other products as well. I pulled up our Amazon customer account and looked at our receipts. We've spent $1508.81 at Amazon.com in the past six months. Multiply that by the number of authors this will affect...authors who, like me, have a multitude of websites to choose from when doing their shopping online.

In addition, authors participate in the Amazon experience, via blogs on the website, by posting reviews about other books, and more, activities that help to continually make Amazon bigger and better. Authors are a loyal bunch! For years, they've been faithfully sending their readers to Amazon.com, again and again, even when they earned lower royalties for doing so.

It's not inconceivable to think that this group, if shoved against a wall like this, won't simply pledge their allegiance elsewhere. Let's face it, BarnesandNoble.com offers free shipping on orders of $25 or more, too. Authors can change the links to their book pages on their websites, in their ezines and press releases, and even in their email signatures to their book's page at BarnesandNoble.com. Authors can spend their own money elsewhere as well (as I plan to do). I imagine BarnesandNoble.com will be very happy to process the extra book sales that could result from all of this.

Amazon.com might also upset countless companies that have Amazon Affiliate bookstores on their websites (many authors have these, too!). If Amazon/BookSurge were to follow through with turning off the "buy" buttons for thousands of POD titles, customers following those links from other websites could be confused and annoyed. After clicking on a link, they would find no easy way to purchase the book directly from Amazon, and no way to obtain free shipping on that book, even if they're willing to buy more products to meet the $25 free shipping threshold. One would think Amazon must know the free shipping strategy works to upsell customers on additional products. That's why they offer it. Without it, these customers could have no incentive to buy more products because the product they surfed in to buy does not qualify.

One has to wonder if traditional publishers will be next? Will Amazon eventually require all books sold through Amazon.com to be printed by BookSurge?

Let's all hope and pray this situation is one huge, misguided idea from some mid-level management person and not corporate policy being dictated from the office of Jeff Bezos.

And that's a very disgruntled Angela Hoy on the Amazon issue... I found no release though that responds to these complaints from the Amazon/ Booksurge side





Shocking News For Self Published Authors -- Amazon will NO LONGER sell POD books unless from Booksurge


Amazon has announced that it will only sell print-on-demand books printed by its own print-on-demand service BookSurge according to recent news from TechCrunch

The print-on-demand book business has thrived in the last few years as players such as Lulu, Blurb and others have catered to publishers looking to reduce overhead on inventory. It will be very difficult for anyone to compete with Amazon in the print-on-demand space.

The decision may also cause book prices to rise with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Amazon BookSurge prices are higher than other print-on-demand providers.

This is confirmed by a Wall Street Journal Article as well...

Amazon.com Inc., flexing its muscles as a major book retailer, notified publishers who print books on demand that they will have to use its on-demand printing facilities if they want their books directly sold on Amazon's Web site.

The move signals that Amazon is intent on using its position as the premier online bookseller to strengthen its presence in other phases of bookselling and manufacturing. Amazon is one of the biggest booksellers in the U.S., with a market share publishing experts estimate to be about 15%. Amazon doesn't comment on sales.


I wonder how other print on demand outfits like iUniverse and Xlibris will respond this news? I personally had to try this for myself and so searched for the book "My Road To Microsoft," an Xlibris book I love, and still found it there. Although it is true that there is no longer a "Buy" button it can still be added to a cart and be bought just like any other product.

Not sure if this should be a big deal... but yet again... I'm not a self publisher

Image from tridentconfidential.com

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Danielle Steel Pens Children's book - The Happiest Hippo in the World



Ever wonder how you would do if you wrote about something other than the genre you were used to? Well Danielle Steel seems to be wondering the same thing


HarperCollins has acquired world rights to Danielle Steel's The Happiest Hippo in the World. The world-famous romance novelist, who has penned 88 adult titles, is not a complete stranger to the genre, having published the Max and Martha picture books with Delacorte in 1989. The new title with Harper, about a baby hippo that's green instead of the standard gray, is slated to hit shelves in fall 2009. The book will be illustrated by Margaret Spengler. Kate Jackson, senior v-p, associate publisher and editor-in-chief of HarperCollins Children's Books, brokered the deal with Kate Schafer of Janklow & Nesbit.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Xlibris' Premium Extra Publishing With Kirkus Discoveries, Exhibit Marketing & SYOP




Premium Extra Publishing With Kirkus Discoveries, Exhibit Marketing & SYOP

No need to hunt down the best deal this Easter. You can get the most out of your publishing experience right here at Xlibris with the exclusive Premium Extra Publishing Package.

All the great benefits of the Premium package plus free Kirkus Discoveries Review Service, Exhibit Marketing and the Set Your Own Price program. Absolutely unbeatable savings, but only until March 31, so hop to it and start your publishing journey today.

For just $2,999, you get the most comprehensive set of tools available for Black & White Book Publishing:

* 20 paperback & 5 hardback copies of your book
* Fully customized book cover and interior
* Registration with: Amazon.com, Borders.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Ingram, Books in Print, and more than 200 online stores
* U.S. Copyright & Library of Congress Registration
* ISBN Numbers and UPC barcode
* Data Entry service
* Copyediting & Indexing service
* CD Archive
* Personalized Website with Domain – Starter Design
* Book Review Campaign – Professional
* Press Release Campaign – 100 media outlets
* E-mail Marketing Campaign – 200,000 recipients
* 50 bookmarks, 50 business cards, 50 postcards & 5 posters

And as part of this Easter Exclusive you also get:

* Kirkus Discoveries Review Service
* Book Exhibition Marketing Show
* Set Your Own Price program


Call Xlibris today at 1-888-795-4274 or e-mail us at publishtoday@xlibris.com to take advantage of these unbeatable deals. Make sure you quote your Coupon Code: PREMEX.
This offer is only available until March 31, 2008

Message from Xlibris: Timing is Critical For a Successful Marketing Campaign

Xlibris just sent me this quaint little message about how to make a successful marketing campaign for my book

Timing is Critical For a Successful Marketing Campaign

The difference between a successful book and one that is never heard of is often a professional, well thought out marketing plan. With more than 175,000 new titles published last year in the United States alone, it is incredibly difficult to capture the attention of the reading public. Without a concentrated and organized effort to create positive word-of-mouth, the chances of having a high-selling book are almost zero.

The essential elements of a successful marketing campaign are timing and focus. Spring has traditionally been a strong season for book sales, the time is right for you to focus your marketing efforts and breathe life into your campaign. Xlibris has launched six comprehensive Spring Marketing Packages (at a 50% discount for March) to coincide with the season and help you achieve your marketing goals.

Add a great assortment of printed marketing materials to help your promotional effort and save even more in March.

Call 1-888-795-4274, ask to speak with your personal marketing consultant, and let them help you decide which is the best marketing approach for you and your book.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Authorhouse Poetry Publishing Package

Since we're in the topic of poetry publishing packages, I looked up several other poetry publishing packages as well. Here's the one from Authorhouse

Publishing Promotion: Xlibris Poetry Publishing Package









Xlibris just launched a Poetry Publishing Package. Originally $799 but being sold at half price this month. These are available in Black and White and Full Color Poetry Publishing Package.












March Publishing Promotion: iUniverse Bracket Buster Bonanza




I'm not exactly sure what iUniverse is doing with the basketball theme but here's their promotion for the 2nd half of March. These are dollar savings for each package



Save $200 off the regular price of a Premier Pro Publishing Package. $1,299

NOW ONLY $1,099 -- Code: PRO200MAR


Save $150 off the regular price of a Premier Publishing Package. $899

NOW ONLY $749 -- Code: PRE150MAR


Save $100 off the regular price of a Select Publishing Package. $599

NOW ONLY $499 -- Code: SEL100MAR


Friday, March 14, 2008

Join The Ranks Of Rudyard Kipling, Margaret Atwood and Stephen King in the SELF PUBLISHING Hall of Fame



I read a book by John Kremer entitled 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. It was pretty darned thick and not necessarily the easy-read you would probably have after a long day of work, but it is quite insightful.

Well John Kremer is up to something new these days with his Self publihing Hall of Fame. Apparently if you self publish, you can be in on it too provided you have
  • big sales
  • significant rights sales
  • impact on society
  • growth as a publisher
  • an innovative marketing strategy
  • or a very good story....
According to the website

Self-publishing was at one point considered as bad as vanity publishing, but with so many self-published successes in the past few years, it is now possible to self-publish with respect. Publishers Weekly will now look at self-published books, something they would never have done five or ten years ago. “Gone are the days,” wrote former Publishers Weekly rights columnist Paul Nathan, “when self-publishing was virtually synonymous with self-defeating.”

And now with the advent of print-on-demand publishing, it's possible to self-publish at little cost. POD publishing or self-publishing are excellent ways to test the market for a book, establish that market, and even build the market to such an extent that an author can sell the reprint rights to a much larger publisher for a good advance. Indeed, many larger publishers now scour the shelves and the Internet for self-published and POD books that could fit their publishing program. Self-publishing has become respectable again.

You could stock a superb college library or an incredible bookstore just from the books written by the some of the authors who have chosen to self-publish: Margaret Atwood, L. Frank Baum, William Blake, Ken Blanchard, Robert Bly, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Lord Byron, Willa Cather, Pat Conroy, Stephen Crane, e.e. cummings, W.E.B. DuBois, Alexander Dumas, T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Thomas Hardy, E. Lynn Harris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Robinson Jeffers, Spencer Johnson, Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L'Amour, D.H. Lawrence, Rod McKuen, Marlo Morgan, John Muir, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Tom Peters, Edgar Allen Poe, Alexander Pope, Beatrix Potter, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Irma Rombauer, Carl Sandburg, Robert Service, George Bernard Shaw, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, William Strunk, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoi, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and Virginia Woolf.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Tip For Self Published Authors: How To Make The Most Of Your Book Publicity On Amazon.com

Amazon.com may be the most powerful selling channel on the planet for self published authors. With the tag line "Earth's Biggest Selection," the site has become a platform for authors to connect directly with readers. Many of Amazon.com's features, which are designed to help readers find what they are looking for, can be utilized to drive readers to your book's detail page and result in a sale for you. Below are some of the features you can use to market and gain greater visibility for your book on Amazon.com. Get online and explore!

Customer Reviews

Located just below the editorial reviews on your book's detail page, customer reviews are almost always impartial opinions of other consumers who purchased your book and want to tell other shoppers what they thought. How can this help you sell more books? Encourage anyone who tells you how much he/she enjoyed your book to write a review on Amazon.com. As your positive reviews grow, so may your sales.

Search Inside the Book

With Amazon's Search Inside the Book feature, customers no longer have to visit their local bookstore to see the actual interior pages of a book.

How does it work? When customers search for books, the actual text of your book is searched to display the most relevant results, rather than simply the author, title and keywords. Customers can also browse sample pages and perform additional searches inside the book to confirm your book is exactly what they are looking for.

AmazonConnect

Communicate directly with your readers and potential readers through AmazonConnect: post messages that will appear on your readers' Amazon.com home pages and your book's detail page, provide stimulating content for potential buyers of your book, and build a reader community by establishing loyalty and direct one-on-one relationships with your readers.

Before you get started, you might want to check out the AmazonConnect Author Directory to browse through the list of registered authors.

Amazon Shorts

Receive additional ongoing income streams and grow your online audience by publishing short fiction and non-fiction through Amazon Shorts. Offering the widest range of digital short-form content, Shorts will help you reach new audiences,drive sales and create robust marketing opportunity and visibility on Amazon.com. As a self-published author, you can leverage your rights ownership and provide readers with a risk-free way of sampling your work and promoting your full length book titles. Visit www.amazon.com/shorts and learn more about the program.

Buy X, Get Y Advertising Program

Buy X, Get Y is a paid promotion that allows you to increase the visibility of your book by pairing it with a top-selling book (or other product) to offer shoppers added value for purchasing both items simultaneously. Promotions are featured in the "Best Value" section of each product's detail page for one month. The products, when purchased together, are offered at a 5% discount.



Tags

What is a tag? Think of a tag as a keyword or category label strongly related to a product. Tags can help customers on the Amazon site find products they otherwise may not come across. Anyone can add a tag to a product on the Amazon site and assuming that person has purchased at least one product from Amazon in the past, that tag will be visible to other customers.

How can this be beneficial to you, the author of a published book available for sale on Amazon? From your book’s detail page, you can add tags that are relevant to your book’s topic; once you add these tags, your product will come up when customers on the Amazon site click on that tag to see all associated products. The image below shows the tags currently associated with BookSurge author Richard Ridley’s book, The Takers. In order to add a tag, you simply type it into the box, “Your Tags” and click the “Add” button. Your title will automatically be associated with that tag.

Add Tags to Amazon.com

Notice that the tags associated with The Takers are words such as “horror book” and “young adult,” which relate to the book’s genre and target audience.

You’ll also notice from the image above that it is possible to suggest tags for Amazon search; this allows you to specify the search for which you think the item should appear, along with your explanation of why it is relevant. To submit tag suggestions for your book(s) to Amazon search, you’ll want to go to your book’s detail page and look for a section called "Tags customers associate with this product" (featured above). You’ll then click on the “suggest link” and you’ll be taken through the process of making a tag for Amazon search. Please refer to the Tag for Amazon Search Guidelines for more details.

Rankings

Your book's sales ranking on Amazon.com can be a great selling tool to include in promotional materials. How do the rankings work? The calculation is based on Amazon.com sales and is updated each hour to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold on the site. As your book's popularity grows, so will its reviews and ratings which, when favorable, will add to the marketability of your book.

Listmania!

Listmania! is a tool created by Amazon.com to help shoppers help one another find useful products, (or in our case, readers find books they may not have otherwise come across). The lists appear on the right side of the page when a keyword search is conducted and at the bottom of a product's detail page. The lists appear when they pertain to the keyword that was searched or contain the product currently in view.

Create a Listmania! list (and ask your friends, family and fans to also) featuring your book and other similar books and products - a great way to lead readers straight to your book! Visit Amazon.com to learn more about creating Listmania! lists.

So You'd Like to ... Guides

So You'd Like to ... Guides are similar to Listmania! lists. They are created by Amazon.com users to help other Amazon.com users find products they may not have otherwise come across. Just like Listmania!, you (and your friends, fans and family) may want to create a So You'd Like to... guide that features your book. It will increase the likelihood that people will come across your book while browsing on Amazon.com.

via Booksurge.com

Outskirts Press Publishing Promotion

Here's another self publishing company I found. I don't think it's as big as either iUniverse/ Authorhouse or Xlibris, but it looks like it may be worth a shot. Here is their promotion for March.

Save up to $100 when you start publishing today
Valid Promotion Dates:
March 1 - 9, 2008
Valid Promotion Code:
PP10P-030908
Packages:
Normal package price:
Save 10% today:
$999
$899
$599
$539
$399
$359
$199
$179
$999
$899

Enter the Promotion Code at the time of your secure online payment.


Their book publishing packages are named after gems, diamond being the most expensive and emerald being the cheapest.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Authorhouse Gets Into Publishing Packages Plus Publishing Promotions

Authorhouse just figured out that maybe they have to go into the publishing package route. Maybe they followed their newly acquired partner iUniverse? Sharing tips must be an advantage these days. Here are their packages. They also have a queer publishing promotion that says

Save $100 on most Authorhouse packages

Not clear on that but... who knows right?

Paperback/Hardcover
Children's/Color
Poetry Publishing


iUniverse Publishing Promotion



iUniverse is giving away cash discounts AND Free books this month! Pick up the luck of the published for St. Patrick’s Day and GET REWARDED...TWICE when you publish your book at iUniverse today. By purchasing your publishing package before March 18, you’ll get double the rewards — a discounted price and more free books

Promotion Description: Code:*
Save $150 off the regular price of a Premier Pro Publishing Package and get 15 extra FREE paperback books $1,299 NOW ONLY $1,149 MARPRO150
Save $100 off the regular price of a Premier Publishing Package and get 10 extra FREE paperback books. $899 NOW ONLY $799 MARPRE100
Save $50 off the regular price of a Select Publishing Package and get 5 extra FREE paperback books. $599 NOW ONLY $549

MARSEL50

Xlibris Spring Publishing Promotion




It looks like Xlibris is up bright and early for spring, with all the flowers on their website.

Spring into savings this March. Save 50% on your promotional campaign with the Spring Marketing Packages, and up to 30% off your publishing service beginning on March 3rd with the Incredible Disappearing Discount. That means you can publish and share your manuscript with the world for as little as $349. Every day you wait, the discount rate diminishes, so start your publishing journey today and get the most out of your Spring Savings Spree. Remember, the earlier you sign up, the more you save.

I posted a link to their publishing promotion because my brain cells are barely keeping up with the math that's involved just to get to the discount for the day. What happens if they payment gets delayed? Do I lose a point off the discount?

Keep Your Book Short. More People Will Read Them. Brief Books Are In Style



Here;s a little advice for authors who are still in the process of writing their manuscripts... keep the book short and simple. According to this article from AP, Brief books are in style. Please read on and be inspired...

As he prepared a biography of Edgar Allan Poe, author Peter Ackroyd read through more than 20 volumes of Poe's work and filled two file cabinet drawers with notes — more information than the most devoted fan could absorb in a lifetime.

It was all for a book that will run less than 200 pages, that can be read within a few hours.

"It's like writing an essay, rather than a biography," says Ackroyd, who has written an 800-page book about London and 500 pages about Shakespeare. "It's an exercise, in style as much as in substance. It's an opportunity to capture the broad strokes of a life, a career, a world, in ways which are probably impossible in a large-scale biography."

It is a showcase for the art of brevity.

In the decade since James Atlas revived the form with his "Penguin Lives" series, at least 10 publishers have started their own lines of short, nonfiction books, on subjects ranging from scientists to presidents to mythology. Although the advances are low — and sales often to match — short books have attracted such best sellers and prize winners as novelists Jane Smiley and Larry McMurtry, essayists Christopher Hitchens and Bill Bryson, and historians Robert Dallek and Sean Wilentz.

"I like this trend. It's fine, old-fashioned self-improving middlebrow literature," says humorist P.J. O'Rourke, who wrote a brief work on Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" for Grove/Atlantic's "The Books That Changed the World" series.

The nonfiction sketch dates back at least to Plutarch and has been upheld over time by John Aubrey in the 17th century and Lytton Strachey in the early 20th century. But never, Atlas and others say, have so many publishers been in on the trend at the same time, even if opinions differ on why there is a trend.

"I imagine a highly educated, reading public, readers of The New York Review of Books, readers of The New Yorker, readers of The New York Times Book Review," says Atlas, who currently edits the Eminent Lives series at HarperCollins. "There is an audience I know empirically exists out there of several hundred thousand readers who have a dedication to the idea of being educated, in the highest sense."

"It's not a gigantic commitment to read one of those books," says Grove/Atlantic publisher Morgan Entrekin. "It's not like picking up `The Looming Tower' or `The Coldest Winter.' You can educate yourself about something in a short period of time."

Ackroyd has his own personal line with Doubleday: "Ackroyd's Lives," a planned 10-book series for which works on Chaucer, Sir Isaac Newton and J.M.W. Turner already have been written. The Canongate Myth Series, short books on mythology, expects contributions from Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Donna Tartt and several others.

Graywolf Press has started "The Art of" series, edited by award-winning fiction writer Charles Baxter, who contributed a work on "The Art of Subtext." At Palgrave/MacMillan, former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark is overseeing a series of short military biographies, including books on Stonewall Jackson, Omar Bradley and Douglas MacArthur.

"They're written in a very direct style, for the general public, to make these stories more accessible," Clark says. "They're the kinds of books you can pick up at an airport and finish in 4-5 hours and if readers are really interested, they'll seek out longer, more scholarly books."

If the ideal reader is an educated self-improver, the ideal writer is versatile, prolific and provocative, such as Garry Wills, who has written short books on James Madison (for the Times Books series on American presidents), Saint Augustine (for Penguin Lives) and Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello (for National Geographic's "Directions" series).

Other favorite short-form authors include Francine Prose, who has written short works on Caravaggio (for HarperCollins' Eminent Lives) and gluttony (for an Oxford University Press series on the seven deadly sins); Paul Johnson, books on Napoleon and the Renaissance; and Karen Armstrong, works on Buddhism and Islam.

With advances of $100,000 at best, the art isn't only in writing the book, but in finding the writer. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. urged Bill Clinton to write a short biography of Abraham Lincoln for Times Books, but could only promise prestige, not the former president's multimillion-dollar market price. Atlas recalls asking for Henry Kissinger on another project, only to be told his starting price was $2 million, "several zeros over my limit."

But sometimes a little pleading works. For Eminent Lives, Atlas tried to lure essayist, travel writer and linguist Bill Bryson to write a short book on Shakespeare. Bryson, author of such best sellers as "A Walk in the Woods" and "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," ended up writing one that came out last year.

"We try to elicit enthusiasms," Atlas explains. "I sent out these missives to writers I admire, sometimes into the Internet ether and sometimes by actual post. I sent some letters to Bill Bryson and sort of forgot about it until a few months later I got this letter from him. There's one word, followed by a question mark: `Shakespeare?'"

Others persuaded have been Hitchens, for books on Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, and playwright David Mamet, who completed a work on anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred for NextBook's "Jewish Encounters" series. Contributors to the Times Books presidential series include former Senators Gary Hart and George McGovern, and Dallek, author of best-selling biographies of President Kennedy and President Nixon.

"I like to vary the rhythm of my writing," says Dallek, whose short biography of Harry Truman comes out this fall.

"Having finished a huge, 700-page book on Nixon and Kissinger (`Nixon and Kissinger'), it was very appealing to do a 150-page book and get it done in a much shorter period of time. I wasn't relying as much on archival research. The Truman book is more of a kind of think piece, an expanded essay, a kind of commentary."

Jane Smiley, whose novels include "Horse Heaven" and the Pulitzer Prize-winning "A Thousand Acres," was approached years ago by Atlas to contribute a book to Penguin Lives. Smiley chose Charles Dickens, and, like Peter Ackroyd, read far more about her subject then she could ever put in a short biography.

"From my point of view, it's like writing an article for a magazine. There's not going to be any great profits; it's more on the order of, if they've got to have a series, who should be in it?" Smiley says.

"I love the idea of all these short books coming out, although like every bubble, it'll break. But the great thing about book bubbles is that we'll have the books. Even after the market crashes, the books will be around to read."

From AP via Yahoo News

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